Review: Kricket Series by Amy A. Bartol, books 1-3

NetGalley Review

An eARC of these books was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I do have to note outright that I do not recommend these books, they are problematic in ways that are never resolved. It’s not romance, it’s rape culture with badly drawn tropes. These are directed toward a YA market, and given my issues with the story and characters, find this quite disturbing. 

Under Different Stars coverTitle: Under Different Stars (Kricket #1)

Author: Amy A. Bartol

Publisher and Year: Amazon Publishing, 2013

Genre: YA, romance, fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Kricket Hollowell is normally not one to wish upon stars; she believes they’re rarely in her favor. Well versed at dodging caseworkers from Chicago’s foster care system, the past few years on her own have made Kricket an expert at the art of survival and blending in. With her 18th birthday fast approaching, she dreams of the day when she can stop running and find what her heart needs most: a home.

Trey Allairis hates Earth and doubts that anyone from his world can thrive here. What he’s learning of Kricket and her existence away from her true home only confirms his theory. But, when he and Kricket lie together under the stars of Ethar, counting them all may be easier than letting her go.

Kyon Ensin’s secrets number the stars; he knows more about Kricket’s gifts than anyone and plans to possess her because of them. He also knows she’s more valuable than any fire in the night sky. He’ll move the heavens and align them all in order to make her his own.

When everything in their world can be broken, will Kricket rely upon love to save her under different stars?

My review: 

Kricket is an interesting heroine, although seems to hit all the tropes for both looks and intelligence, plus a hard-luck past. Still, I like the way she engages, like the way the story begins. The writing tends toward info dumping, and it’s a bit slow in places, filled with tropes but not well done. I love tropes done well, but a lot of these made me cringe. Overall I quite liked the alternate universe in which Kricket finds herself. I read this because I was invested in her struggles (despite the make up of her character – although that was tempered somewhat by the fact that apparently that’s run of the mill in this alternate universe. Yes, I’m applying ‘handwavium’* with abandon here).

I kept reading this book (and the subsequent ones) because of some of the more disturbing plot elements and relationship dynamics that I hoped would be addressed. Relevant to my review for this book is the way that Kricket doesn’t seem to be able to make choices for herself and she ends up in various situations that aren’t great because of others’ who make decisions on her behalf. It’s very overtly gender essentialist although Kricket says all the right things about demanding independence – practically all the characters she meets who are male fall over themselves to be with her or have sex with her, and few end up having any genuine respect for her. Add that to the overdone over-protective streak of some of the characters once they decide she’s not the enemy and that they actually like/love her and want to look out for her, it doesn’t sit well. Kricket may not be a damsel in distress, but the other characters in the story try very hard to put her in that box.

And although in her own voice she rails against this – it’s frustrating to read. It’s also not an example I’d like to pass onto young people about how to navigate that kind of thing. Secondly, the development of the romance between Kricket and Trey is frankly unbelievable, I didn’t get the connection between them much at all – healthy respect and even friendship the way the other soldiers treated her, sure. But not romance. And on that note, while I’m good at handwaving and I’ve definitely done so for relationships I found problematic in other books, this romance didn’t sit right with me because of the differences in power dynamics as well as age and experience. Age and experience I can overlook in various contexts if it’s handled well, but I don’t think it was here and as such it came across as creepy – if less creepy than Kyon’s obsession with Kricket.

Overall I kept reading because I desperately wanted to read how things were addressed, dealt with, acknowledged, how Kricket empowered herself and what she did to get there. I could absolutely have gotten behind that. But… that’s not what happened in the first book. So I went onto the second, hoping that it was a bigger story building into something I could enjoy more and appreciate better.

 


Sea of Stars coverTitle: 
Sea of Stars (Kricket #2)

Author: Amy A. Bartol

Publisher and Year: Amazon Publishing, 2015

Genre: YA, romance, fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Eighteen-year-old Kricket Hollowell was looking for her place in the world when she discovered that the universe was bigger—and more dangerous—than she had ever dreamed. Now, whisked across space to the planet Ethar, Kricket learns that her genetic ability to see the future makes her a sought-after commodity…and the catalyst for war between her star-crossed parents’ clans. According to Alameedan prophecy, one house will rise to power and the other will be completely wiped out, and Kricket’s precognition is believed to be the weapon that will tip the scales.

A target of both the Rafe and the Alameeda houses, Kricket finds protection—and a home—in the arms of Trey, her Etharian bodyguard-turned-boyfriend. But her visions of what’s to come disturb her deeply, especially since she must discover whether the gift of foresight will allow her to rewrite the future, or if her fate is as immovable as the stars.

My review: 

Book 2 of this series starts off looking up, but I felt like by the end it doesn’t really go anywhere. There are some nice character interaction moments, and I liked that Kricket got to save everyone once. I enjoyed that Kricket’s meeting with Charisma – Trey’s ex partner – was positive, although it did come across as a little saccharine. Also what the actual fuck is with the patriarchal nature of this worldset? It’s not actually worse than Earth on Ethar, but some of the overt views are really crap and again… it’s not something I’d want to give to other young adults as an example of dealing with this kind of stuff.

Aside from the few moments early on where Kricket gets to save herself and the others, she remains very much a commodity and I feel like this fact is reinforced well and truly above and beyond what is necessary. I don’t feel like her companions were effective in objecting to her status as someone seen as a commodity by others in their world. Also, in the end she ends up in the hands of the violent sociopath Kyon anyway. And is coerced into being a reluctant informant. I read speculative fiction because there’s enough of the real world to deal with on a daily basis, but this is straight out of something in my news feed. It’s nasty and insidious and is presented as though Kricket is a heroine for dealing with things, Kyon is presented as being insane but also as something of an antihero to sympathise with, Giffen is out to use her straight up – but at least he’s honest about it. Kricket’s so-called father is essentially meaningless in the story and the writing failed to give me any investment in the war at large overall – it was too impersonal and Kricket’s experiences were largely too removed from the war happening for it to be meaningful.

Again in reading this book I was left with a desperate sense of wanting it to be part of a larger story where Kricket gets to triumph for herself and the nasty, insidious, rape culture aspects of the story would be owned and dealt with in some way I could stomach. It didn’t happen, but I proceeded to the third book hoping, because it does read as though there’s a build up to some momentous event.

 

Darken the Stars coverTitle: Darken the Stars (Kricket #3)

Author: Amy A. Bartol

Publisher and Year: Amazon Publishing, 2015

Genre: YA, romance, fantasy

 

Blurb from Goodreads:

Kyon Ensin finally has what he’s always wanted: possession of Kricket Hollowell, the priestess who foresees the future. Together, their combined power will be unrivaled. Kricket, however, doesn’t crave the crown of Ethar—she has an unbreakable desire to live life on her own terms, a life that she desperately wants to share with her love, Trey Allairis.

As conspiracies rage in the war for Ethar, Kricket’s so-called allies want to use her as a spy. Even those held closest cannot be trusted—including Astrid, her sister, and Giffen, a member of a mysterious order with a hidden agenda. But Kricket’s resolve will not allow her to be used as anyone’s pawn, even as the Brotherhood sharpens its plans to cut out her heart.

As the destiny prophesied by her mother approaches, Kricket will backtrack through her fiery future to reshape it. For she knows one thing above all else: the only person she can truly count on is herself.

My review: 

I very nearly did not finish this book because the rape culture and romanticising of domestic/intimate partner violence was a significant part of the story throughout most of the book. It sat really uncomfortably with me. At this point having invested two previous books, I was quite invested in Kricket as a character (having long handwaved the badly drawn tropes of her character make up), but it was just grim to read – and not in a good way. It’s like watching some of the worst elements of society unfold before you, but painted in pretty colours as though it will hide the ugliness. Plenty of people think these books are the best ever, that they’re super romantic and so on so clearly that’s worked but I’m reading this with constant discomfort.

I liked that Kricket managed to escape with another of the priestesses back to Earth. The ending is both satisfying and leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth – it’s not the empowerment I’d wanted for Kricket, but it is freedom and one she’s chosen. At no point do any of the relationships that Kricket is invested in really come through for her, not her sister, not her father, not Trey or the soldiers, certainly not Kyon. It’s just her surrounded by a whole lot of betrayal and sacrificial expectations. I feel like Kricket both simultaneously rejected and embraced the martyrdom of the story outcome, it’s part of the bad taste I think.

I doubt this is the end of the series, but I doubt I can be convinced to read any others. I can deal with this ending and write this whole experience of this series off as a bad idea, and evidence that just because you can read a book, and just because you hope that it will all come out in the wash, doesn’t mean you should read it, doesn’t mean the crap will be addressed. I should know that already, but apparently it’s one of those lessons you need to learn more than once.

I do not recommend these books at all. They do not take you to a good place, they do not leave you in a good place. They are not good examples of pretty much anything for young adult readers. The tropes are badly drawn and anything interesting is overwhelmed by the creepy rape culture factor. I’ve gone to the trouble to share my reviews and write up this post because I think it is incredibly important to challenge problematic things and to say what’s not okay about them.

 

*Handwavium refers to my ability and perceived need to handwave elements of something that I either find unbelievable, out of place, badly used tropes, or sometimes even offensive. (If I stopped watching and reading anything that was problematic well, I would read and watch very little, and that’s not how I roll, considered criticism and engagement for the win.)

73rd Down Under Feminist Carnival!

Wow! How is it June already?! There is quite an incredible array of interesting links for your appreciation this month. Many thanks to all of you who submitted! Many hands make light work and I am grateful for the support.  I have tried to include some interesting projects and small positive things in amongst what is overall a very heavy reading carnival. I wanted to try and balance the sombre with a little hope and some attempts to actually make the world a better place around us in tiny, ever so important ways.

To begin this carnival, we pay tribute to the late Maya Angelou, a great lady who made the world a better place, and certainly made me want to work harder at doing so myself.  Orlando writes beautifully at Hoyden About Town celebrating Maya Angelou as a Friday Hoyden.

Media, Texts and Arts

Scarlett Harris brings us an insightful review of “The To Do List” over at Bitch Flicks as a film aiming toward sex-positivity but with mixed results in Enjoyment isn’t an item on “The To Do List”.

Stephanie Convery discusses Helen Razer’s latest contribution to feminist debate in her Overland article Talkin loud but sayin nothin. This is not a simple case of ‘if you can’t say something nice…’. Razer is by this point well known for tearing into ‘armchair feminism’ as though contemporary feminism is too busy shouting about things to do anything about them, and also as though she herself isn’t doing precisely that. Lastly, as though the reactions and responses aren’t also just as valid, even if there is also reason to be critical.

In the article Oh, what can we do with The Taming of the Shrew, I can give no better introduction than Flaming Moth’s own. “The Problem: why do we still like it, and can we, in all good conscience, allow ourselves to continue to do so?”

Clementine of Feminist Killjoy To The Stars shares Some thoughts on students, protests, Q and A and the moral indignation of a lazy public, namely that the role of protesting is to draw attention and that doing so isn’t necessarily a failure to go about change in a more ‘appropriate’ way.

Over on the blog for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, Alisa of Twelfth Planet Press writes If you’re not part of the solution… She discusses the impact of the challenge on people reading Australian female authors and the way it is still all too easy for women writers to become invisible in the current climate.

Tansy Rayner-Roberts is celebrating her birthday blog-style by undertaking a gender-swapped Musketeer project in  her post A birthday Musketeer Space web serial introduction. Over the next eighteen months she aims to post weekly chapters of a space opera retelling of “The Three Musketeers”.

Bethwyn of Butterfly Elephant shares her book reviews books about Zita the Spacegirl finding many positive things to say about the series. If you want some comfort reading, or need some new children’s story books, you may like to take a look.

Liz of No Award writes about the iconography of the Virgin of Guadalupe printed on fabric in her post Your Fabric is Problematic.

Poetry from Erin of Erinaree, On the Side of Angels [broken links removed]. Reflection on feminism, misogyny, fear, and not wishing these for men.

Violence and Rape Culture

Trigger warning: content in this category may be difficult reading.

Scarlett of The Scarlet Woman talks about Walking While Female criticising the surge in comments about women walking on their own at night, which is a little too close to blaming the victim for my taste. People have a right to walk the streets in safety without being interfered with by others.

Sarah at Radically Visible on why misogyny kills, in Sexism, Entitlement and Santa Barbara writes that discussing the Santa Barbara killings and dismissing them as the act of a ‘madman’ with no consideration of the inherent misogyny or rape culture behind the act reinforces the same social structures that make it possible for such tragic events to happen.

Jo of A Life Unexamined writes about Rape in the News: better, but not there yet where she finds that the fact that the perpetrator is the main focus of the news story to be well worth noticing, rather than the usual focus on the victim(s), often blaming.

Steph from the National Union of Student’s Women’s Department writes Some thoughts about the UCSB shooting, and how the background to gun violence is often one of rape culture and that we ignore this at our peril.

TigTog posts at Hoyden About Town a Nugget of awesome: Sex and love aren’t earned focusing on the creepy idea that if you’re a ‘nice’ guy you somehow ‘earn’ sex and love that is unsurprisingly a pertinent topic of discussion following the Santa Barbara shooting.

Clementine of Feminist Killjoy to the Stars rants about #Notallmen and how just for a moment if people wanting to say that, stopped for just a moment and instead actually listened to what those around them are saying, actually considered what it’s like from the opposite perspective.

Race and Racism

Kathleen Joy of so much joy it hurts, writes about Australian ignorance of Indigenous cultures and our disrespect to Indigenous cultures and way of life and why Chris Lilley in brownface as “Jonah from Tonga” is disrespectful.

Siv of OnDusk uses Star Wars as a metaphor for the importance of Twitter as a way for black people to speak, to be heard and to know when people – on three continents no less – say horrible offensive things and try to pretend that this is actually okay.

Celeste writes about the appalling state of racism and Indigenous rights in her post Thoughts for Sorry Day over at Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist. The post is short, stark and honest about the real impact of the present day institutionalised racism in Australia and that we have much to be sorry for.

Deborah at A Bee of a Certain Age talks about making space for people with different cultural needs around a proposal to have a few hours set aside as Women only swimming hours at a local swim centre. There is intolerance in the idea that people should just change and act like ‘the rest of us’ and just swim with everyone else. It’s an intolerance that doesn’t respect cultural differences and does exclude women from public spaces and certain activities.

Celeste of Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist writes Aloha from Oahu sharing about her excitement at attending the World Indigenous Peoples Conference and the difference this event has made for her in the past.

Work, Value and Unemployment

Snoringcat writes Today, I am Angry, her rant is heartfelt and hits very close to home from my experiences last year. Job hunting is soul-crushing, exhausting and the impact and cost of long-term unemployment and job-hunting is woefully misunderstood.

Politics

At Global Comment, Chally writes Eurovision: A Referendum on Putin’s Russia providing insight into the politics of the Eurovision Song Contest, neatly capturing a summation of responses to the 2014 winner, but also to the extent of European political commentary on Russia.

Deborah writes in The New Zealand Herald We all deserve a fair go, talking about the importance of fairness and how this is a nuanced idea, that numerous approaches to something could be described as fair in their way, but it depends on the aim of being fair overall.

In Quiet, the men are talking about misogyny Liza of Fix It, Dear Henry talks about the difference between men and women’s reactions to the Santa Barbara shootings in that, largely women already understand why it happened – it’s something we live with. While men are experiencing something of a revelation around misogyny right there in front of them, and while a lot of the discussion is good to see, some change to go with it would be great.

Liz at No Award talks about the politics in her escapism in relation to Mass Effect 3 and Australian border protection policy, saying that the similarities between the two is strong enough to be disquieting.

At The Filing Cabinet, in her article Megan asks Are the abortion wars about to begin? She talks about the political shots fired across several states over abortion rights and considers the overall threat to Australian women’s reproductive rights.

Shakira and Helen at The New Matilda discuss the offensive double standard around freedom of speech in their article The powerful already have free speech.

The Budget

Stevie of Stevie Writes {link broken so removed} shares her views about how the budget will affect working class families, talking about how I’m glad my mother isn’t alive to see the Budget 2014, {link broken so removed} based on her mother’s sense of deep betrayal as a working class person having thought that working hard meant being taken care of later in life. Like Stevie, I hope this sparks change, but in the mean time the future looks bleak for all but the elite few.

Sandra from The $120 Food Challenge {link broken so removed} calls the 2014 budget All Sticks, No Carrots {link broken so removed}. The reality of the budget’s impact on jobseekers, young people, and even their parents is bitter. On the backs of the vulnerable and disadvantaged does Australia build it’s economic ‘future’.

In Disability in Budget 2014, El Gibbs provides further insight into the 2014 Budget impact on people with disabilities. While the funding for the NDIS remains unchanged, other surrounding changes will have a massive impact on the services and care available to people with disabilities, their families and carers.

Kaye originally posted her open letter to Mr Hockey on Facebook, but her words about what $7 really means resonated with many people. That dilemma of unexpected single-parenthood and whether to spend your last $7 on food, petrol, or nappies.

At Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear, Chrys talks about the budget apportioning $245 million to further fund and expand the School Chaplains program in her post School chaplains – making disciples. There are real concerns that while Chaplains may mean well, they are not trained professionals in social work, psychology or counselling, they come from a religious background that may not be appropriate for a large number of school students. Criticism of the program has been seen in the High Court, but Chrys emphasises the need for the debate to occur in the public sphere over the appropriate use of public funds to best support students.

Over at Global Comment, Chally writes about Australia’s budget attack on its poor, young and vulnerable. She highlights the disproportionate difference between the effects on wealthier Australian citizens in comparison to pretty much everyone else.

Jennifer at No Place For Sheep looks at Joe Hockey’s response to his budget in her post I’m Joe Hockey. You’re not. Hockey’s comments clearly position the poor as immoral and undeserving of pleasure and being wholly responsible for their situation, while he himself enjoys a cigar and a glass of Grange.

Fat Activism

As a fat woman, Fat Heffalump talks honestly about why It sucks to be a fat woman. She talks about the pressure to be positive all the time and that this can silence people around the difficulties and horribleness that being fat and a woman in Western society involves.

Health

Avril writes When you discover you are at the mercy of your hormones and talks about going through peri-menopause and how it has really taken her by surprise and taken over how she goes about life right now.

Queerness

No one is exempt from instances of poor behaviour, but in saying that there are definitely behaviours that speak ill of us and the messages we wish to put forth. In The King’s Tribune {broken link removed}, Brocklesnitch speaks In painful defence of Pyne {broken link removed} against her wishes, but does so eloquently in relation to gay ‘joke’ slurs being used.

In her article I am woman hear me The Roar, Brocklesnitch also discusses language of discrimination in relation to a sporting incident pointing out that when slurs are used, whether they’re true or untrue doesn’t change the pejorative nature of the slur. If an insulted sports person isn’t actually gay, using a language slur doesn’t just suddenly become bad language, because that’s not the way that language and discrimination work.

Beauty Culture

In Daily Life, Michelle shares her experiences of being a single female who is also bald and trying to date. Her article, How dating works when you’re a bald woman, draws attention to the insidious negativity that beauty culture builds around women’s experience of themselves, their physical presentation and the reactions of others to that presentation.

Fat Heffalump talks about her realisation about her personal experience in discovering she didn’t feel the need to be beautiful, being Unapologetically ugly. This is a thoughtful piece that considers beauty culture from a different angle – one that doesn’t redefine or recontextualise beauty itself, although it emphasises the subjectivity of beauty. Instead, the focus is not needing to be considered beautiful and it is a refreshing read.

Motherhood, Parenting and Children

Orlando posts at Hoyden About Town that Lego is refusing to get the message, sharing a recent catalogue depicting which Lego is for boys and which for girls, with colour being the least of the differences.

Andie of Blue Milk writes for Daily Life responding to the question of Can you protect your children from living your mistakes? Andie’s take is that we’re none of us separate from our upbringing, from our environment and histories, that parenting is often in response to how you remember your own childhood. The piece is insightful and unsurprisingly doesn’t provide an easy answer, but does invite self reflection and some gentle self-acceptance.

At Pesky Feminist, {link broken so removed} Amy talks about On Mother’s Day {link broken so removed} and the depth of feeling that this day of recognition often fails to encompass. She talks about her bravery and the importance of the woman as well as the mother, it’s a poignant piece and well worth reading.

Making the World a Better Place

Bec of of Opinions @ Bluebec writes about The legacy we leave in that it is important that we strive to not pass on the racism, sexism, homophobia and other nastiness to our children, even as we teach them about these things to enable them to deal with them when they (inevitably it seems) happen.

The End!

That’s it for this month, hopefully there was some new and interesting reading to you all and that all the bleak commentary doesn’t get you down too much. Many thanks again to everyone who sent in links and suggestions, it’s greatly appreciated.

Also, I’d love to encourage you to take on hosting the carnival for a month – it’s generally pretty simple, and there’s support if you need it. Talk to Chally about it, she has all the information. If you’d like to host a Carnival, email  her at chally [dot] zeroatthebone [at] gmail [dot] com or head over to the DUFC page to find out more about how it all works.

The next Down Under Feminist Carnival, the Seventy-Fourth Edition planned for 5 July, will be hosted by Pen at Pondering Postfeminism. Submissions to drpen [dot] robinson [at] gmail [dot] com for those who can’t access the blogcarnival {link broken so removed} submissions form.